For Political and Oil Independence

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For Political and Oil Independence
in Le Devoir, June 13, 2008

This is an unofficial translation of a public letter by former Premier of Quebec Mr. Bernard Landry, published in Le Devoir on June 13, 2008. Bernard Landry is today professor at the département de stratégie, responsabilité sociale et environnementale of the Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM).

In the past 50 years, I twice had the occasion to be a witness to and take part in a vast mobilization of Quebec society which allowed our nation to give a new breath to her economy: first the nationalization of electricity and the great hydroelectric works of the Sixties and Seventies; then the technological shift, started in the Eighties and completed in the Nineties.

It is time for Quebec to move forward with a third great mobilization in order to give our economy a new breath for a generation or two. This time, the issue is to free Quebec from its dependence on oil. In addition to allowing the collective enrichment of the Quebec nation, this vast national corvée will also allow us to provide a strong contribution to the battle against global warming.

At the time of writing these lines, the barrel of oil is sold at $139 on the markets. At this price, oil becomes ruinous for the Quebec economy, digging an abyssal trade deficit. Certain analysts, among whom are Jeff Rubin of the CIBC, announce a price of $200 per barrel by 2010. At that price, it is more than 50 billion dollars that will leave Quebec. We are talking about a dead loss for Quebec's economy, a true bleeding! We must put an end to it and react without delay.

An Oil-Free Economy

Quebec is of course not the only one to suffer from such a rise in prices, as indicate the social disorders in Europe and the growing concern in the United States. Oil being an exhaustible resource, all countries in the world will one day or the other have to do without. It is thus imperative to start to reduce our dependence as soon as possible.

However, Quebec has an advantage that others do not have: we are the place in the world, with Norway, where oil is the least important component of the energy balance. In other words, Quebec is already the society least dependent on oil in the Western world. Without even taking in account the potential natural gas resources, Quebec has enormous clean energy resources, such as hydraulic power and wind power. These resources allow us to consider an economy without oil.

Quebec has all the assets to become a North-American leader in the race toward an economy without oil. Whether with regards to energy resources, electric technologies or materials, our nation has all the ingredients to contribute to transform the world and to enrich herself. I can very well imagine Quebec adding the manufacturing of electric cars to that of trains and air planes, where we already are world leaders. Nothing prevents us to imagine Quebec, in 10 or 20 years, as one of the most prosperous places in North America.

Opposite Strategical Interests

Before this legitimate and realistic ambition stands a major hurdle: the divergent interests of Canada. Indeed, if oil impoverishes Quebec, it has greatly enriched Canada these last few years. Canada has to some extent become an oil country, as shows the value of the Canadian dollar, which is largely determined by the oil price. The consequence is that the policies of the federal government — and a fortiori a Harper government pledging its allegiance to the bituminous sands industry — are elaborated according to oil interests.

Whereas the strategic interests of Quebec brings it to move toward an economy without oil, the strategic interests of Canada bring it to the opposite side. If one adds to this the devastations which the fiscal imbalance on the financial capacity of our national State will inevitably produce, we must conclude that never before have the economic interests of each of the two nations been so divergent.

Action or Inertia

The race against the clock has started. Either Quebec quickly begins this great mobilization to rid ourselves of oil and gives ourselves a formidable opportunity for collective enrichment. Either it lets itself be guided by the inertia which keeps it tied to the oil dependence of Canada.

Sovereignty, which is the inescapable answer to our aspirations and our will to join the community of nations, is also the surest way to a prosperous and exemplary Quebec with regards to the battle against climate changes. More than ever, the hour is to political... and oil independence!


The author will tomorrow take part to the Forum public sur les perspectives économiques et financières du Québec organized by the Institut de recherche sur le Québec.

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